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Challenge To Leon County Mask Mandate Dismissed By Appeals Court

The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The 1st District Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal filed by Leon County GOP Chairman Evan Power after a circuit judge rejected the challenge in July.

An appeals court has tossed out a challenge by the Leon County Republican Party chairman to a county requirement that people wear face masks to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The 1st District Court of Appeal on Monday dismissed an appeal filed by Leon County GOP Chairman Evan Power after a circuit judge rejected the challenge in July.

The dismissal did not address underlying constitutional issues in the case but stemmed from Power’s attorney, state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, not filing an initial brief at the appeals court.

Sabatini, who has been an outspoken critic of face-mask requirements, filed a notice of appeal at the Tallahassee-based appeals court on July 30. But attorneys for Leon County filed a court document Oct. 22 saying an initial brief had not been served within a 70-day timeframe.

That prompted the court to give Sabatini and Power 20 days to file the brief or ”show cause why this appeal should not be dismissed for failure to comply with the rules and orders of this court.” After the initial brief was not filed within the 20 days, Leon County requested dismissal of the case --- the request granted Monday.

The Leon County case was one of several challenges to mask requirements in various parts of the state. A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal on Nov. 23 heard arguments in a challenge to an Alachua County mask requirement that raised a series of issues, including whether the requirement violates privacy and free-speech rights. The panel has not issued a ruling.

Sabatini told The News Service of Florida on Tuesday that he "let it (the case) become dismissed and moot" because of the Alachua County case.

“These cases are going to the Supreme Court. We just chose not to push that one because there was an identical, duplicate case being heard literally the exact same month, in the same Court of Appeals,” he said.

The Leon County Commission passed its ordinance June 23 amid a surge of coronavirus cases in the state. The ordinance requires people to wear masks inside businesses, with some exceptions, and threatened fines for non-compliance.

Power and Sabatini challenged the constitutionality of the requirement, but Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper on July 27 issued a final judgment that rejected their arguments,

“The temporary mandate to wear face coverings in public, in limited circumstances, is similar to the other health measures designed to protect the public’s health, safety and welfare. E.g., motorcycle helmet laws, seatbelt laws and prohibitions against smoking in public buildings,” Cooper wrote. “The stated purpose of the emergency ordinance is to limit the spread of this contagious, airborne virus, and the county has provided ample evidence which indicates that face coverings may assist in reducing the spread of COVID-19.”

Throughout the pandemic, Gov. Ron DeSantis has declined to issue a statewide mask mandate. He also issued an executive order in September that suspended collection of fines and penalties related to violations of mask requirements, but that did not prevent local governments from continuing to have the requirements.

Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.